CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
This application claims priority to a U.S. provisional patent application Ser. No. 60/667,721, filed on Apr. 1, 2005. Priority to the provisional application is expressly claimed, and the disclosure of the provisional application is hereby incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.
Invention relates to security and tracking of valuable items during shipping, and in particular to a system and method for distributing and tracking media.
2. Related Art
In the film distribution industry, the owner of a feature film records the film onto suitable media, typically a strip of film. The strip of film is loaded onto a metal reel that is suitable for the film to be played back on a film projector. The film reel is placed into a metal container and shipped to the movie theaters that have paid the film owner for the rights to show the film in a movie theater.
- SUMMARY OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
However, these prior art techniques do not provide a means for tracking the film media in such a way as to prevent the media from being temporarily removed from an expected shipping route, being used for illicit purposes such as copyright infringement, and then being placed back in the stream of commerce without detection by the owner of the media. What is needed is a way to track media in such away that detours from the expected shipping route and usage of media can be detected remotely.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
A system and method for tracking media is disclosed. A tracking device package includes a container for shipping media and a tracker coupled to the container wherein access to the media is monitored electronically by the tracker to enable media access. The tracker can be a combination of a GPS system, for determining the location of the media, and a mobile phone for communicating the location to interested parties. The tracker can verify the location of the container and the length of time that the container has been at a particular site. If anomalies are detected with respect to the location and/or the length of time that a container has been located at a particular site, then the tracker can report this information back to the owner of the media being tracked through a central repository and database system.
FIG. 1 is a block diagram showing an example of a distribution system for shipping media.
FIG. 2 is a diagram showing a perspective view of a tracking device package in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.
FIG. 3 is a flow diagram showing a method for distributing and tracking media in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.
FIG. 4 is a flow diagram showing a method for distributing and tracking media in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 5 is a flow diagram showing a method for distributing and tracking media in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 6 is a block diagram showing a system for distributing and tracking media in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.
- DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
It should be noted that the figures are not drawn to scale and that elements of similar structures or functions are generally represented by like reference numerals for illustrative purposes throughout the figures. It also should be noted that the figures are only intended to facilitate the description of the preferred embodiments of the present invention. The figures do not describe every aspect of the present invention and do not limit the scope of the invention.
The following serves as a glossary of terms as used herein:
- GPS—global positioning system.
- GSM—global system for remote communications.
- RFID—radio frequency identification device.
- Tamper box—a box, which when opened or tampered with, performs some action to indicate that the box has been opened or tampered with.
FIG. 1 is a block diagram showing an example of a distribution system for shipping media. A film distributor 101 owns a film that it wants to distribute to movie theaters 103-105. In this example, the movie theaters 103-105 have an agreement with the film distributor 101 in which they pay a fee in exchange for having the right to show the film theaters. Typically, such an agreement will state that the movie theater will have physical possession of the film reel at a specified time interval so that they can playback the film in the theater. In the timeline shown at the bottom of FIG. 1, movie theater 1 (103) has access to the film during time interval T1, movie theater 2 (104) has access to the film during time interval T2, and movie theater 3 (105) has access to the film during time interval T3.
The film is delivered from the film distributor to the movie theaters 103-105 by way of a common carrier 102 such as DHL or Federal Express. Common carriers typically provide tracking services so that the sender and receiver of a package can track the package during shipment. This tracking, however, is typically limited to providing information about the various common carrier sites that the package passes through on its way to the destination, and to providing information that the package has been delivered to its final destination. The movements of the package itself as it is moved from onto and off of the truck are not tracked.
A problem has developed in the film distribution industry where a canister containing a film reel is taken off the common carrier truck, copied illegally, and then placed back on the truck for delivery to its legitimate location. The illegal copies of the film are sold at a steep discount, thus depriving the film owner of revenue that he would have gained from his copyrighted film. This scenario can happen several times during the distribution of a particular film, and can be very costly for the film owner.
In the example shown in FIG. 1, the film is delivered to movie theater 1 which has purchased the rights to show the movie for time T1 (typically one week), then there is a time gap 1 during which it is presumed that the film canister is being delivered by the common carrier to movie theater 2 which has purchased the rights to show the movie for time T2. Then there is another time gap 2 during which it is presumed that the film canister is being delivered by the common carrier to movie theater 3 which has purchased the rights to show the movie for time T3. Time gap 1 and time gap 2 provide opportunities for copyright pirates to take the film canister away from the common carrier, for example by colluding with a truck driver to “borrow” the film and return it after copying it, or to simply steal it from the common carrier.
Another option for copyright pirates is to copy the film while it is legitimately located at a movie theater, during times T1, T2 and T3. This can happen as a result of the film canister being stolen from the theater or through cooperation of movie theater employees to enable the illegal copying of the film. Thus, what is needed is a system and method for distributing and tracking media that provides the film owner with a higher level of security and which detects and possibly prevents the behavior described above.
FIG. 2 is a diagram showing a perspective view of a tracking device package 200 in accordance with an embodiment of the invention. The film canister 201 contains a film reel (not shown) that is to be delivered to a destination. A lock 203 can be attached to the canister for purposes of preventing access to the film reel to someone who does not have permission, i.e. anyone not authorized to access the film reel inside. A tracker 202 is attached to the film canister or to the film reel itself. The tracker 202 provides a means for sending information about the specific location of the item to which it is attached. The tracker 202 can be turned on at all times for purposes of constantly tracking the film's whereabouts. The tracker 202 could also be part of a film canister that is implemented as a tamper box.
The opening of the tamper box triggers the tracker 202 to report information about the film's location in response to the tamper box being opened. In an embodiment of the present invention, the tracker can be a GPS device 204 combined with a mobile phone 205 that “phones home” or calls the owner of the film at an appropriate time to indicate that a particular event has occurred. For example, the tracker 202 can respond to the film reel being removed from the film canister 201 by detecting the location at the time of removal using the GPS, and then automatically placing a mobile phone call to the owner to report the opening of the canister. The mobile phone can be programmed to call a central repository or server 602 that is coupled to a database 601 that keeps track of all activity of such tracking device packages 200.
For example, the mobile phone can be programmed to “phone home” to the server 602 if the canister is opened or if the tracking device determines that the canister has been delivered to a destination that is outside of the boundaries of some predetermined travel path. This would be useful if the canister is taken to a destination that is outside of the normal delivery route for purposes of illegitimately copying the media and then returning the media to its regular delivery route. The central repository 602 and database 601 are described below in the discussion of FIG. 6. Other forms of tracking may be used to detect the location of the media, for example, RFID and GSM triangulation. For example, an RFID could be coupled to the film reel.
FIG. 3 is a flow diagram 300 showing a method for distributing and tracking media in accordance with an embodiment of the invention. When a media container is opened, step 301, the location of the media is recorded, step 302. If the recorded location of the media corresponds to a predetermined destination, step 303, then the media is validated, step 304. For example, if the media's predetermined location is movie theater 1 and upon opening the media container, it is determined that the media container is located at movie theater 1, then the media is validated. If the recorded location of the media does not correspond to a predetermined destination, step 303, then the media is invalidated, step 305 and an alert signal is sent to the owner of the media, step 306. For example, if a film reel is authorized to be located at movie theater 1, but the recorded location shows that it is physically located in another city, then the media location is invalid.
FIG. 4 is a flow diagram 400 showing a method for distributing and tracking media in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention. When a media container is opened, step 401, the location of the media is recorded, step 402. If the recorded location of the media corresponds to a predetermined destination, step 403, then the media is assumed valid up to this point. In an embodiment of the invention, an automatic locking device can unlock the media container automatically when the predetermined location is reached. Alternatively, an encryption key can be used to unlock the media container in response to an input such as a predetermined code.
A release/enabling key can be used to unlock the media container if certain predetermined criteria are met. For example, if the media container is located within a certain distance of a predetermined destination, the release/enabling key will allow the media canister to be opened. Also, in an embodiment of the invention, a master override key can be implemented as a backup method of opening the canister in case any other keys or locking devices do not work to open the media container. Such a master override key should be closely guarded for security purposes.
The time that the media has been at the location is then recorded, step 404. The recorded time is compared to a maximum time that the media is allowed to remain at the location, step 405. For example, the maximum can be the maximum length of time that movie theater 1 can retain physical possession of the media at that location. (This is typically based on the contract between the movie theater and the copyright owner with respect to the length of time that the movie theater retains playback rights to the media.)
For purposes of this example, the maximum time is shown on FIG. 1 as T1. If the recorded time at the location exceeds the maximum time, then the media is invalidated, step 407, and an alert is sent to the copyright owner, step 408. If the maximum time has not been exceeded, then the media is validated for playback, step 406.
FIG. 5 is a flow diagram 500 showing a method for distributing and tracking media in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention. When a media container is opened, step 501, playback data associated with the media is recorded, step 502. The playback data includes information such as the number of times the media has been played back. The number of times that the media has been played back is compared to a maximum playback number, step 503. In an embodiment of the invention, the playback time can be tracked by using an accelerometer which tracks the spinning of a media reel such as a film reel. The accelerometer tracks how many times the reel has spun around its axis, and can be used to provide usage statistics, based on the assumption that if the reel is spinning, the film is being shown or rewound for another use.
If the accelerometer detects that the film is being used for a significantly longer time than is expected, based on the agreement between the film owner and the movie theaters that have a license to show the film a specific number of times, then it can be assumed that there is a possibility that the film is being used outside of the scope of the license. This could used to detect the scenario where a copyright infringer takes the film reel between legitimate showings, makes a copy of it and then returns it to the movie theater. If the number of times that the media has been played back does not exceed the maximum playback number, then the media is validated, step 504. If the number of times that the media has been played back exceeds the maximum playback number, then the media is invalidated, step 505, and an alert signal is sent to the owner of the media, step 506.
FIG. 6 is a block diagram showing a system for distributing and tracking media in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention. A database 601 includes various representations of verified media playback 603 associated with a mobile tracking device 202 coupled to a media container 201. The database 601 is coupled to a processor 602. The processor 601 is a central repository or server that communicates with the database 601 and the mobile tracking device 202. The mobile tracking device 202 communicates with processor 602 as shown so that information obtained by the mobile tracking device 202 can be compared to the verified media playback criteria 603 contained in database 601.
The foregoing described embodiments of the invention are provided as illustrations and descriptions. They are not intended to limit the invention to the particular forms or methods disclosed, but, to the contrary, the invention is to cover all modifications, equivalents, and alternatives. In particular, it is contemplated that functional implementations of the invention described herein may be implemented equivalently in hardware, software, firmware, and/or other available functional components or building blocks, and that networks may be wired, wireless, or a combination of wired and wireless. Other variations and embodiments are possible in light of the above teachings. This, it is intended that the scope of invention is not limited by this Detailed Description, but rather by the following claims.